Q: I’m thinking about buying a new smoker. What features are most important?
A:There are basically two types of dedicated smokers on the market… offset smokers where thewood (and sometimes charcoal) is added to a fire box and the smoke circulates throughout the cooking chamber and vertical smokers (such as the Weber Smokey Mountain) where charcoal and wood are placed in the bottom of the cooker and the food is placed above.
The best smoker is one that holds temperature without constant monitoring and refueling. Some of the less expensive offset smokers are not very air tight and require a lot of attention.
For my money, the Weber Smokey Mountain is an excellent choice for a novice smoker. It is easy to use, holds temperature well and has a pretty good capacity. A lot of folks swear by ceramic cookers but they are expensive, heavy and have a limited capacity.
Offset (or barrel) smokers are an entirely different animal. Most competition teams use offset smokers very effectively but for the average backyard cook a $5,000 to $50,000 offset smoker might be overkill!
Editor’s Note: There’s great information on the Amazing Ribswebsite, where Meathead, “The Barbecue Whisperer,” shares the Zen of Outdoor Cooking. This includes a great article about offset smokers, including reasons to avoid the COS (Cheap Offset Smoker), and how to “tune your pit” by making modifications and improvements.
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Mike Stines is a professional chef and the Grilling and Gadgets Editor for the Burn! Blog. Mike holds a “Doctorate of Barbeque Philosophy” (Ph.B) degree from the Kansas City Barbeque society. His book—Mastering Barbecue (Ten Speed Press, 2005)—has been called the “go-to” book for BBQ knowledge.